Monday, September 29, 2008
Add to this ridiculous cycle the fact that in order to escape law school I've gotten myself WAY too involved with the student clubs and organizations. And it's all hitting the fan; for instance, last Thursday night I was QUADRUPLE booked - class, peer mentoring, mediation team meeting/training and arbitration team meeting/training. And after that I had to work til midnight. Plus, as always, money is crazy tight.
Then I got a letter in the mail. The contents of the letter humbled me - an amazing feat, to be sure. They also changed me. Granted, I still hate school, I'm still over-involved and money is still a concern. But the letter and its contents showed me just how much I'm loved and how much support I have. I guess we all need to be reminded exactly how good we have it and how many people are pulling for us, whether we see it or not.
So, thank you for your support, prayers, emails, blogs, laughs, phone calls, positive karma, well wishes and general good vibrations. I may never pay off my students loans, but I'm happy to know I'll also never overcome my debt of gratitude.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
So, there I am, pushing my cart - alright, staggering behind my cart - wandering up and down the aisles and apathetically running my cart into the shelves, hoping items will fall into my cart so I won't have to expend the energy of picking them up and putting them in the cart myself.
I was so tired I seriously considered curling up for a quick nap in the produce section. Staring at romaine, the I must have been visualizing myself on a bed of lettuce too convincingly because a Walmart employee approached and asked me if I was feeling alright. I said yes and kept shopping.
When a second employee asked me the same question, I decided it was probably time to wrap it up and go home. But when my checker snapped me back into reality by asking me, "Is everything okay? You look terrible," I was just plain embarrassed.
Given the classy clientele at Walmart I must have looked like a walking corpse if THREE employees were so shocked by my appearance they asked me how I felt. And so, I can tell all of you exactly how I feel about my experience: Mortified. And now I'm going to bed.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Like most students, I support myself during the academic year by borrowing large amounts of money generously fronted to me by banks and guaranteed by good ol' Uncle Sam. He may want his many nieces and nephews educated but he wants 'em to do it on their own dime. Ain't America grand? As most of you know, one must apply for these funds through the college or university they attend. Then, after taking tuition and fees, the financial aid office, or FAO, disperses the remainder. Recently, I was duped into what I can only call a "scheme" as a result of the following conversation, paraphrased by yours truly:
Me, arriving at FAO: "Excuse me, good sir, but would you be kind enough to tell me when I might expect my educational loan check to be available for pick up?"
Deceitful FAO employee, looking deceptively sympathetic: "Dear me, I'm afraid to tell you checks won't be available for several days."
Me, brow furrowing in concern: "Oh, drat. I do believe my bank roll is growing terribly small and I still need to purchase books for school and essentials from the grocer. What ever shall I do?"
Treacherous FAO employee: "There is one thing that might speed up the process. You seem to be a decent, thoroughly-modern sort of chap. Maybe you'll be keen to hear about a new-fangled way of getting funds: E-leck-tron-ic deposit. It's becoming quite the rage with forward-thinkers. Why be stuck back in the Dark Ages, standing in line with all the other simple-minded saps, waiting to pick up an old-fashioned, paper check when you can join the way of the future by signing up for E-leck-tron-ic deposit? If you sign up for this free service today your money will be sent directly to your bank so you won't have to do a thing. Plus, you'll get your funds TWO DAYS earlier than if you were dull enough to do things the drab, boring, old way."
Me, poor trusting dolt, wanting oh-so-much to join the future today: "Ooh-eee! That does sound mighty fine, what to get my funds early AND not have to wait in that line. What do I do?"
Demonic FAO employee, grinning greedily: "Just sign here and I'll take care of the rest."
If you couldn't tell from the narrative, things didn't end up working exactly as I was promised. I did eventually get my funds and I didn't have to pick up the check. But I didn't receive them early at all. In fact, I got them five days late and only after I stood in the long line to pester the FAO on TWO separate days. Boooo!!!!! Hiss!!!!!!
P.S. The reprobate FAO employee that sold gullible me on this pipe dream of banking convenience? Well, the FAO claims to have no knowledge of him - said they never had an employee by that name - said I must have been mistaken or imagined it. But how can I make a name like "Beelzebub?"
Sunday, July 6, 2008
After Mont St Michel we visited Omaha Beach. We stayed about three hours, including going through the Memorial Museum, the Cemetery and the beach itself.
Two things surprised me about seeing the Beach:
1- The beach we WIDE, i.e. it was easily 200 yards from the water to the first bluffs. Since I was there within a week of the actual landing date the tide was fairly similar to when the Allies landed. This view is from the water looking towards the Cemetery, which is on the plateau with the line of trees.
2 – It was a beautiful beach. If the beach didn’t have such a tragic history it would have made a lovely destination.
Bunkers: There are several bunkers scattered throughout all the Beaches of Normandy. Here a shot of my friend Ronda walking down into one at Omaha.
Cemetery: WARNING - This was a very emotional place and I tried to convey that with this blog. While perhaps a bit melodramatic this blog is also sincere. Usually I am scarcastic and pithy; for the remainder of this blog I am not. Please try to read this seriously.
The entire place was peaceful, poignant and sad, but a beautiful sad. It was the kind of place that even though there were other people around you felt…solitary. Alone but not really lonely, if that makes sense.
Wandering through the headstones you felt humbled, grateful and almost ashamed to be there, like there was nothing in your whole life that qualified you to be among those fallen soldiers. It was like you never knew sacrifice or bravery or selflessness before you walked beside those alabaster Crosses and Stars.
As I left the Cemetery, of all the emotions that had touched me the one that stayed with me was hope – I hoped that if the time ever came I would be as courageous and giving as those who slept beneath the soil of Normandy. All in all, it was an excellent place to experience.
Wow – that was a little heavy. Next blog will be lighter, I swear.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
First allow me to say to Michelle: Hijacking is a serious offense, more so when you’ve not simply hijacked a plane or something but had the audacity to hijack someone’s blog! In fact, I’m pretty sure the Constitution defines “blog-jacking” as a “high crime." All’s I’m sayin’ is Michelle, you better watch your back: I’m sure the Federales are just moments away. And after they’re through with you I get my turn…
That being said, let me address the scandalous, inflammatory and sometimes misinterpreted pictures that have illegally found their way onto my blog:
1 – I wasn’t goofy, I was HUNGRY. That was one of my Grandma’s amazing gingerbread boys. I couldn’t be delayed a few seconds by unwrapping it or bothered to remember exactly what the doctor warned about adding to my already seriously unhealthy levels of plastic wrap consumption. People, there was gingery goodness to be had…Don’t you judge me.
2 – I guess not all the pictures were mislabeled.
3 – Word to the wise: Golden Buddas are violent. Do you see how that Budda is totally tying to back-hand me? I guess when you reach Nirvana you no longer have to worry about your actions effecting your next level of reincarnation. But I think you still have to worry about smelling like Teen Spirit (oh, I WENT there).
4&5 – Look how cute Nanos and Bear are! Man, what happen? Just kidding. They’re still cute; now they just looked a little…stretched is all.
6&7 – Another word to the wise: Italy is bright. Bring a pair of sunglasses or run the risk of being mocked by your sister if she ever hacks into your blog. But if she does, don’t worry: you’ll have the last laugh when you turn her in to the Feds for blog-jacking and testify for the prosecution. Mmmwwwwha-ha-ha.
8 – Oh, just look at adorable Jujy-pie! And at my buzzed head! YIKES!
9 – Sheesh! I was being pensive, not goofy! This may come as a shock to some of you but I experience more emotions than just “goofy.” Wait – goofy is an emotion, right?
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Go North, Young Man.
Our first destination was an island monastery called Mont Saint Michel. From Nantes it was a short, two-and-a-half hour drive. We made it in three. But we made it in one piece and with no tickets, police intervention or trips to the hospital so I think what speed we sacrificed was well worth it.
Mont St. Michel can trace its roots back to 708. Aubert, Bishop of Avranches, said he saw Michael, the Archangel, in a vision. Michael commanded Aubert to leave Avranches and built a sanctuary in his honor on Mont Tombe, a tiny island just off the coast of Avranches. Now, if it were me, I'd be a bit skeptical about building anything on a tiny, rocky, coastal island - especially if I came from a town that bore a name suspiciously close to "avalanche." Aubert had some doubts, too, since it took the Angel several admonitions and finally burning a hole in Aubert's head before Aubert finally began construction.
In order to boost the local economy (I mean, increase the spirituality of the sanctuary), Aubert had several of his followers make a trip to Italy to find a certain grotto (holy cave) where Michael was already being worshiped. Aubert instructed the pilgrims to "obtain" a piece of the rock in the Italian grotto upon which Michael was said to have alighted and to get a piece of Michael's holy, golden mantle (which I guess Michael left behind). No one told me how the followers were able to get them but they returned with the relics and enshrined them at Mont St Michel (MSM). By the end of the 10th century MSM had become a popular pilgrimage sight and an order of Benedictine monks settled there.
A village grew up around the monastery on the island to support the vast numbers of pilgrims visiting the site. In 933 William, Duke of Normandy, annexed the area. Financed by the Duke, the monastery enjoyed expensive and grand Norman architecture.
Speaking of architecture, this place was INCREDIBLE. Because the architects were severely limited by the pyramid-shaped top of the island, they literally had to wrap the buildings around the granite dome of rock. They built several innovative crypts under the monastery, whose arched ceilings served to support the massive structure above. Given the spatial challenges MSM is unlike any other monastery in the world and represents unique examples of both style and mathematical precision.
MSM withstood English sieges during the Hundred Years War, thanks largely to its military fortifications (quite necessary due to its strategic placement near the English Channel). Thus, MSM has become a national French icon, much like Masada has for Israel.
MSM lost much of its prestige following the French Revolution and in the 1800s it became a prison. After becoming an official historic monument in 1874 MSM underwent extensive restoration and is listed as a World Heritage Site. I guess the prisoners were transferred. Or released. Or guillotined. Not that it really matters - dirty criminals.
As many of you know, making friends quickly and easily has been a life-long challenge for me. Given my natural introverted tendencies, habit of deep, public introspection and disinclination for either being the center of attention or making a spectacle of myself, I've experienced serious loneliness and solitude. No, wait. Never mind. Nothing in this entire paragraph is true in the slightest.
Anyway, I seemed to fall in most easily with the handful of students who enrolled in Drake University's France program but weren't Drake students. We really wanted to go to the northern coast of France. We rented a car, paid extra for GPS and made hotel reservations.
Unfortunately, we didn't start this process until Thursday afternoon; finding hotel accommodations so late became a bit troublesome. Additionally, our collective lack of linguistic ability threw a few more onions into the ointment (and, if you recall from my previous post, there are already WAY too many "onions" up in here). After much tribulation (and more than a few lengthy conversations in what can only be called "Frenglish") we had it all set.
When Grady and I went to pick up the rental car Saturday morning we were fairly confident that we could walk from our hotel, find the rental place and be back to pick up the others within an hour. But we kind of got lost. A lot. For like two hours. We finally broke down and started asking random people on the street for directions. Let's just say that was "less than effective." Mercifully, we finally found the place, got the car and set out for the open road.
To be continued...
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Allow me to list some of the "deceptive" similarities and then point out the irreconcilable differences:
1 - Dress.
Similarity: On the street the French do not wear any type of customary dress or regalia found in other countries and cultures - i.e. no sarongs, kimonos, wooden shoes that look like little boats, hanboks, lederhosen, burkhas (generally), parkas (generally), berets, tall fur hats, leather pants, articles of clothing with the Canadian flag on them, or anything else that may clue one in that they are in a foreign country.
Difference: They are better dressed in general. That is to say there are no tee shirts with malnourished waifs wrapped in tattered French flags emblazoned across the front, I "Heart" NY tee shirts, Hard Rock Cafe tee shirts, or tee shirts of any kind. Seriously - so many of them look like they've just come from the latest fashion show in Paris. There are lots of slacks, blazers and sweater for the men. If the temperature drops below 71 every male has to wear like 5 layers of designer clothing. The women are always wearing like 5 layers of designer clothing.
2 - Food
Similarity: They eat food. They have restaurants. They even have McDonald's, Pizza Hut and Subway. They eat sandwiches on real live "French" bread. They have croissants, too. Go figure.
Difference: Everything. Like, when you go into a restaurant and order a pizza you can't even read the menu. And then, once you pick one that sounds pretty good it's still messed up. For example, I chose a pizza that had "champignong" or something (even though they spelled it wrong, I thought "champion" pizza had to be the best), "ananas" (I knew this hot girl in high school named Anna), and "jambon. " I was the least sure about this - I know that "bon" means "good" (so "bonbons" are literally "good-goods," only too true) and I guessed "jam" mean either a fruit-based paste or a hot new song. I figured I would get like a little plastic tub of jelly or a demo tape or something. But guess what? When the pizza came there were no champions, hot girls or groovy beats. NOPE! There were mushrooms, pineapple and ham! While being disappointed at first (mostly by the lack of attractive females associated with my pizza) I decided to make the best of it. Until I noticed what was in the middle of my pizza: a big ol', round ol', disgusting ol', half-cooked ol' sunny-side up EGG. Yup. AN EGG. ON PIZZA. I've since learned they put eggs on everything. I know, I know. I can't figure it out either. Ruin a perfectly good champion, hot girl and dance remix pizza with an egg. But I have learned to order thing without eggs - "sans oeuf," which sounds like "sands" and then like someone punched you in the gut - ooooohhfff. Eating pizza with egg on it FEELS like someone punched you in the gut so I guess it makes some sense.
3 - Work Ethic/Customer Service
Similarities: People have jobs. People own businesses (like revolting pizza shops). There are trams, busses, trains, planes and automobiles (but every little John Candy so I guess even the French get some things right). They have clothing and shoe shops and cafes and book stores and sex shops and topless bars (called cabarets) and everything.
Differences: A 35-hour work week. No kidding. That's all anyone over here works. Now, that sounds great as an employee but as a customer, it blows. For instance, everything is shut up nice and tight on Sunday. Ethically I agree with this 100%. Due to my religious persuasion I was not impacted by this in the least but many of my classmates were shocked and indignant about it. But it's not just Sunday. France has declared most of every Wednesday as a national holiday. On Wednesday there is no school. After like 11 AM everything else pretty much closes and the French just hang around. Some restaurants are open but since the entire rest of the country doesn't have to work the few businesses that are open are totally crowded. And speaking of restaurants, they are pretty messed up, too. Now, I expect that unless you're at IHOP or Denny's one should expect that breakfast items are only served until a certain time. I have also come to accept that "lunch deals" expire after like 2 or 3 PM but the portions at dinner are larger so I don't mind paying a little more. But here, things are a total mess. You can't get ANY food after 2. None. No one will serve you. All the regular businesses close at somewhere between 11:30 AM and 2 PM and they go home for lunch. And after 2 PM no restaurant will serve you again until like 7 PM at the earliest. No kidding. You just can't get service. And if you are bold enough to enter a restaurant and muster up the audacity to ask for a seat or a menu the French will just stare incredulously at you. Like they can't wrap their minds around the fact that the economy works between 2 and 7 PM or that people may get hungry during the five-hour gap of food service. The only place that is open during the afternoon and on Wednesdays? McDonald's. Yup. And it's a MAD HOUSE. Clearly there is a demand for food on Wednesday and in the afternoon as it takes about 35 minutes to get a chicken sandwich due to the stampede of ravenous French people queued out the door of "Mac Dough's." I just don't get it.
4 - Hygiene
Similarities: Shaving of the legs and pits of the women. That's it.
Differences: Everything else. The French don't seem to see the purpose of a daily shower. Perhaps it's because they are so eco-friendly and think it's a waste of perfectly good water. Perhaps it's because they have no shower curtains - at least I know they don't in any hotels I’ve stayed at so far (you kind of have to sit/squat in the tub and try not to hose down the entire room...). Or perhaps they still think that bathing more then one a week will expose their bodies to germs or the Plague or some other medieval farce. All I know is there is some serious BO up in here. And by "here" I mean "France" and not my hotel. Sometimes it's so bad that when the middle-age men walk by, my classmates literally throw away their food. And often on the trams my vision is blurred by the "onion" induced tears streaming down my face. Eww. I know that France is the place credited with cologne and "L'Oreal" and probably "Tres Emmes." I guess the French are more into research and export and not so much about actually using these products.
In conclusion, while the French may at first glance seem to be very similar to us, they are, in fact, as odd and incomprehensible as any real and full-blown foreign culture, like the Chinese or Klingons. But their croissants are heavenly. I swear I've eaten twice my body weight in butter since I've been here. Consequently, my body weight has nearly doubled; which has resulted in greater butter/croissant intake to keep the ratio of butter-to-body-mass up to two-to-one...mmmm...croissant...mmmm....body mass...
Speaking of my observations, this blog WILL contain lots of those. It will also probably contain lots of spelling errors, grammatical mistakes and logical catastrophes - I could draw another parallel between the blog and my law school finals but I think you get the point about my academic lethargy. If you don't then you're probably a member of my study group...
So, I'm currently in France studying international and comparative law. Please don't ask me what that means exactly - I couldn't tell you except that it means I get to live in France for five weeks. Three-and-a-half of which have already passed. And I've just started the blog. Clearly, I'm fairly apathetic. Law school similarities blah, blah, blah.
Okay, enough fluff - on to the main event: My European Adventures. Or, rather, my European MISadventures. Or, more accurately, my Actions That Will Likely Result in Several International Incidents and My Speedy Deportation. On with the SHOW!